The Conservatism of Old Age: overrated?

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Gwern Branwen

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Feb 10, 2012, 12:32:53 PM2/10/12
to N-back, Mike Darwin
"Population Aging, Intracohort Aging, and Sociopolitical Attitudes"
http://www.gwern.net/docs/2007-danigelis.pdf , Danigelis et al 2007

Abstract:

> "Prevailing stereotypes of older people hold that their attitudes are inflexible or that aging tends to promote increasing conservatism in sociopolitical outlook. In spite of mounting scientific evidence demonstrating that learning, adaptation, and reassessment are behaviors in which older people can and do engage, the stereotype persists. We use U.S. General Social Survey data from 25 surveys between 1972 and 2004 to formally assess the magnitude and direction of changes in attitudes that occur within cohorts at different stages of the life course. We decompose changes in sociopolitical attitudes into the proportions attributable to cohort succession and intracohort aging for three categories of items: attitudes toward historically subordinate groups, civil liberties, and privacy. We find that significant intracohort change in attitudes occurs in cohorts-in-later-stages (age 60 and older) as well as cohorts-in-earlier-stages (ages 18 to 39), that the change for cohorts-in-later-stages is frequently greater than that for cohorts-in-earlier-stages, and that the direction of change is most often toward increased tolerance rather than increased conservatism. These findings are discussed within the context of population aging and development."

Extended excerpts:

> ...The uncertain policy implications of population aging have prompted renewed interest in whether older cohorts are more fervent in defending their beliefs and, therefore, more resistant to change (see, e.g., Peterson 1999; Roszak 1998). Two related propositions are relevant to the debate over the relationship between population aging and the nature of economic, political, and social change: (1) as people age, they hold more tenaciously to their views and are more resistant to change (Alwin 2002) and (2) older people’s attitudes are more stable than those of younger people (Krosnick and Alwin 1989). We must be careful to distinguish between changes in cohort distributions and changes in individuals’ opinions. Whereas the latter is an issue of intra-individual change, aging, or development, the former refers to intracohort aging as an aspect of social structure. Intracohort aging summarizes the net results of individual-level change and is, therefore, a conservative aggregate measure of what is happening at the individual level.
>
> ...Whether cohorts-in-old-age can change is behind long-standing discussions of the societal implications of population aging. The Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (1972:96), for example, noted that “one concern often expressed about an older age structure is that there will be a larger proportion of the population who are less adaptable to social and political change, thus suggesting the possibility of ‘social stagnation.’” Much more recently, Peterson (1999:213) predicted that “as the culture ages, the social temperament will grow more conservative and less flexible.” Further, a 2000 replication of the earlier Louis Harris and Associates’ National Council on Aging (1976) study reported that the statement “most people over 65” are “very openminded and adaptable” is endorsed by only 10 percent of 18 to 64-year-olds and 16 percent of those over age 65, which represents a *decline* for both age groups when compared to the 1976 results (Cutler 2000)....Further, rather than emphasize how cohort replacement produces changes in public opinion, we examine within-cohort change and ask specifically: how does the magnitude and direction of intracohort change at older ages compare to the changes that occur when cohorts occupy a younger age range?
>
> ...Indeed, there appear to be age differences in *how* people learn, including, for example, the training regimens that are most effective, the amount of time it takes to acquire new skills, and the speed at which tasks can be completed (Czaja and Moen 2004; Hardy 2006). Nevertheless, relatively recent work on age differences in learning, responses to training, changes in brain structure, and adaptability suggest that change can occur at older ages (Wang and Chen 2006)...The “lifelong openness model” (Visser and Krosnick 1998) suggests that age is unrelated to openness to attitude change. Reconciling this perspective with the empirical evidence regarding the relative stability of attitudes among older age groups (e.g., Alwin, Cohen, and Newcomb 1991) involves the distinction between manifest change and the *capacity* to change....recent studies of political ideology find that both younger and older age groups have become more liberal since the 1960s regarding race in a variety of contexts (e.g., Danigelis and Cutler 1991a; Schuman et al. 1997). Liberal trajectories have also been reported for all age cohorts in abortion attitudes (Misra and Panigrahi 1998), public support for working women (Misra and Panigrahi 1995), and women’s liberation (Konty and Dunham 1997). In other domains, trends toward conservatism appear to characterize the population in general and both younger and older cohorts separately—especially in the area of law and order issues (e.g., Danigelis and Cutler 1991b). Many studies specifically address the relative contributions of cohort replacement and intracohort aging to aggregate trends in attitudes over a range of items. For example, Firebaugh and Davis (1988) report that, between 1972 and 1984, traditional anti-black prejudice declined, in part because of intracohort attitude change and, in part, because of the replacement in the later samples of older respondents by younger respondents. Similarly designed studies indicate cohort replacement’s primacy in explaining increased flexibility about gender roles (Brooks and Bolzendahl 2004), gender differences in liberalized abortion attitudes (Scott 1998), more egalitarian attitudes toward the family provider role among men (Wilkie 1993; see also Brooks and Bolzendahl 2004), and increased tolerance toward leftist groups (Wilson 1994). Other studies, however, find intracohort aging to be an important factor along with cohort replacement on a number of issues, including liberal trends on religious matters among Mennonites (Kanagy and Driedger 1996) and increased environmental concern (Kanagy, Humphrey, and Firebaugh 1994). Davis (1996) finds that on a wide range of attitudes relating to crime, free speech, politics, race, religion, gender, and sexuality both intracohort aging and cohort replacement are important, sometimes working in the same direction, sometimes in opposing directions.
>
> ...Therefore, we must establish, first, that change occurred and, second, if change has occurred, that linear decomposition models are appropriate. To begin, we examine the attitudinal indicators for the total sample and for each age group (<40 and 60+) to determine whether change in aggregate opinion occurs. We refer to our three categories of items as HSG (attitudes toward historically subordinate groups), CL (support for the civil liberties of disfavored groups), and BP (attitudes involving the boundaries of private behavior). All items are found to register significant change for the total population and for either the younger or older populations separately or for both younger and older populations. Most items (all six in HSG, four of five in CL, and three of five in BP) change for both younger and older populations, as well as for the total population. Remaining items change either for the younger population (tolerance of extramarital sex) or for the older population (civil liberties for atheists and tolerance of premarital sex) (see Appendix C for results).
>
> ...In this second stage of analysis, we address three questions for the two age groups that are the focus of this article: (1) Is there evidence of a significant intracohort aging effect on attitudes for the 60+ age group as well as the <40 age group? (2) Does the direction of the intracohort aging effect for the 60+ group indicate increased tolerance? (3) Does the age group comparison of intracohort aging effects on attitudes toward historically subordinate groups differ from the comparison of attitudes toward civil liberties and privacy issues? ...For the adjusted results, the 60+ group is characterized by significant intracohort aging effects in four of the six items relating to historically subordinate groups, compared to five of six for the <40 age group. There are three significant effects for the five civil liberties items in both age groups and four significant intracohort aging effects for the five privacy items in both age groups. When we look more closely at the items for which intracohort aging is a significant component in the adjusted results, all of the significant effects for the historically subordinate groups and civil liberties items change in the direction of increased tolerance for the 60+ age group. By contrast, structural reasons for inequality (HSG) and two of three significant civil liberties effects are in the opposite direction for the <40 age group.
>
> ...When one examines the proportion of the trend that is attributable to intracohort aging (Table 2), the range of percentages is substantial—from a nonsignificant 1.4 (economic gender equality in the adjusted comparisons for 60+) to a high of 99.6 (blacks are pushing too hard in the adjusted comparisons for 60+). Focusing only on the effects in the analyses adjusted for sample composition (columns 3 and 4), three patterns can be discerned. First, the proportional effect attributable to intracohort aging is equal to or greater than that of cohort replacement a little over half the time (10 times for measures among those <40 and eight times for measures among those 60+). Second, the percent of effect attributable to intracohort aging is larger in the younger group for 10 of the items, and this pattern applies especially to boundaries of privacy, which includes three items for which the trend is away from increased tolerance. Third, although very few of the percentages for any item (e.g., civil liberties for Communists and tolerance of extramarital sex) are within 10 percent of each other, the discrepancies between the <40 and 60+ percentages are quite obvious but not all in one direction....Comparing older and younger intracohort aging coefficients when composition is controlled shows significantly greater intracohort aging shifts toward tolerance or significantly lower conservative shifts in the older group for eight of the 16 comparisons (four HSG, three CL, one BP). Only economic gender equality shows the <40 group becoming more liberal and the 60+ group not changing, but the difference is not significant.4
>
> ...The 60+ group is not significantly different from the <40 group on four of the five privacy items: both groups become more favorable toward the right-to-die, both become less tolerant of extramarital and premarital sex and easier divorce laws, and neither group changes their assessment of homosexual sex. The one difference is that the younger group becomes more intolerant of extramarital sex at a faster rate than the older group.
>
> ...Having completed a systematic analysis of more than 30 years of change in sociopolitical attitudes among people at different stages of the life course, we find that change is as common among older adults as younger adults. These findings contradict commonly held assumptions that aging leads to conservatism, as defined by stability of opinions or by beliefs associated with the political right....But even when the 60+ group moves toward more tolerant attitudes, we find no case where they end the observation period by overtaking the younger age group. At best the “tolerance gap” between the older and younger groups collapses, and no signif icant gap remains. In other cases the gap narrows, and occasionally both age groups become more tolerant, but the “gap” between them remains roughly the same. When intracohort aging and cohort replacement operate in opposite directions, as they do on the question about premarital sex for both age groups (Table 1), changes in attitudes as cohorts age provide a braking action to the more permissive attitudes that characterize incoming cohorts.
>
> ...Time and place are two additional limitations. Our analysis focuses on roughly the last quarter of the twentieth century in the United States for a variety of conceptual and practical reasons. Would our results be replicated for the 30 preceding years and earlier? While we cannot know for certain, our earlier review of research centered on the 1960s and 1970s suggests that older cohorts have been changing attitudes right along with the rest of the adult population. Further, our own sensitivity analyses, using different starting and ending years, persuade us that our results are robust relative to small adjustments in timeframe. Nevertheless, analyses on the volatility of occupational aspirations by gender (Jacobs 1989) and of gender ideology (Bolzendahl and Myers 2004; Brewster and Padavic 2000) suggest potential period effects during the course of the time period we examine in this article. Place limitation, of course, raises two sorts of questions. First, are these changes peculiar to the United States? Again, limited information is available—primarily from Canada (e.g., Kanagy and Driedger 1996), Western Europe (e.g., Kraaykamp 2002; Scott 1998), Scandinavia (e.g., Hamberg 1991), and Taiwan (e.g., Hsu, Lew-Ting, and Wu 2001)—but it does suggest that these results may very well be representative of other cultures. Second, the sampling design of the GSS is structured to represent the adult U.S. population, but earlier research demonstrates that attitudes are not uniformly distributed across regions; therefore, change in attitudes may not be uniformly distributed.
>
> ...The concern voiced by Peterson (1999), that population aging will be accompanied by either increasing conservatism or increasing inflexibility, does not appear to be warranted by the data. Nor does the liberal enthusiasm of Roszak’s (1998) predictions about baby boomers’ continued progressive ideas appear justified. It may be true that the generation of baby boomers will retain the enthusiasm and interest in political and social matters that are core to the well-being of our society, but that is not the same as saying they will remain inflexibly liberal (for another empirical treatment, see Davis 2004). Other feared consequences of population aging also seem unfounded. For example, a working paper on the implications of “age retardation” prepared for the President’s Council on Bioethics (2003, paragraph 7) echoes concerns about the social and psychological accompaniments of population aging:
>
>> "If individuals did not age, if their functions did not decline and their horizons did not narrow, it might just be that societies would age far more acutely, and would experience their own sort of senescence—a hardening of the vital social pathways, a stiffening and loss of flexibility, a setting of the ways and views, a corroding of the muscles and the sinews."
>
> ...These and similar cautionary expressions again appear to be rooted, at least implicitly, in the assumption that aging necessarily or inevitably brings with it increasing conservatism or rigidity, notions that receive no support in this study.

--
gwern
http://www.gwern.net

jttoto2

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Feb 10, 2012, 1:54:42 PM2/10/12
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
Good to know we don't get nuttier with age.

On Feb 10, 12:32 pm, Gwern Branwen <gwe...@gmail.com> wrote:
> "Population Aging, Intracohort Aging, and Sociopolitical Attitudes"http://www.gwern.net/docs/2007-danigelis.pdf, Danigelis et al 2007

Arky

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Feb 11, 2012, 1:26:23 AM2/11/12
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
I think the problem is that we _don't_ don't get nuttier.

On Feb 10, 10:54 am, jttoto2 <john.dem...@gmail.com> wrote:
> Good to know we don't get nuttier with age.
>
> On Feb 10, 12:32 pm, Gwern Branwen <gwe...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
>
>
> > "Population Aging, Intracohort Aging, and Sociopolitical Attitudes"http://www.gwern.net/docs/2007-danigelis.pdf, Danigelis et al 2007
>
> > Abstract:
>
> > > "Prevailing stereotypes of older people hold that their attitudes are inflexible or that aging tends to promote increasing conservatism in sociopolitical outlook. In spite of mounting scientific evidence demonstrating that learning, adaptation, and reassessment are behaviors in which older people can and do engage, the stereotype persists. We use U.S. General Social Survey data from 25 surveys between 1972 and 2004 to formally assess the magnitude and direction of changes in attitudes that occur within cohorts at different stages of the life course. We decompose changes in sociopolitical attitudes into the proportions attributable to cohort succession and intracohort aging for three categories of items: attitudes toward historically subordinate groups, civil liberties, and privacy. We find that significant intracohort change in attitudes occurs in cohorts-in-later-stages (age 60 and older) as well as cohorts-in-earlier-stages (ages 18 to 39), that the change for cohorts-in-later-stages is frequently greater than that for cohorts-in-earlier-stages, and that the direction of change is most often toward increased tolerance rather than increased conservatism. These findings are discussed within the context of population aging and development."
>
> > Extended excerpts:
>
> > > ...The uncertain policy implications of population aging have prompted renewed interest in whether older cohorts are more fervent in defending their beliefs and, therefore, more resistant to change (see, e.g., Peterson 1999; Roszak 1998). Two related propositions are relevant to the debate over the relationship between population aging and the nature of economic, political, and social change: (1) as people age, they hold more tenaciously to their views and are more resistant to change (Alwin 2002) and (2) older people’s attitudes are more stable than those of younger people (Krosnick and Alwin 1989). We must be careful to distinguish between changes in cohort distributions and changes in individuals’ opinions. Whereas the latter is an issue of intra-individual change, aging, or development, the former refers to intracohort aging as an aspect of social structure. Intracohort aging summarizes the net results of individual-level change and is, therefore, a conservative aggregate measure of what is happening at the individual level.
>
> > > ...Whether cohorts-in-old-age can change is behind long-standing discussions of the societal implications of population aging. The Commission on Population Growth and the American Future (1972:96), for example, noted that “one concern often expressed about an older age structure is that there will be a larger proportion of the population who are less adaptable to social and political change, thus suggesting the possibility of ‘social stagnation.’” Much more recently, Peterson (1999:213) predicted that “as the culture ages, the social temperament will grow more conservative and less flexible.” Further, a 2000 replication of the earlier Louis Harris and Associates’ National Council on Aging (1976) study reported that the statement “most people over 65” are “very openminded and adaptable” is endorsed by only 10 percent of 18 to 64-year-olds and 16 percent of those over age 65, which represents a *decline* for both age groups when compared to the 1976 results (Cutler 2000)....Further, rather than emphasize how cohort replacement produces changes in public opinion, we examine within-cohort change and ask specifically: how does the magnitude and direction of intracohort change at older ages compare to the changes that occur when cohorts occupy a younger age range?
>
> > > ...Indeed, there appear to be age differences in *how* people learn, including, for example, the training regimens that are most effective, the amount of time it takes to acquire new skills, and the speed at which tasks can be completed (Czaja and Moen 2004; Hardy 2006). Nevertheless, relatively recent work on age differences in learning, responses to training, changes in brain structure, and adaptability suggest that change can occur at older ages (Wang and Chen 2006)...The “lifelong openness model” (Visser and Krosnick 1998) suggests that age is unrelated to openness to attitude change. Reconciling this perspective with the empirical evidence regarding the relative stability of attitudes among older age groups (e.g., Alwin, Cohen, and Newcomb 1991) involves the distinction between manifest change and the *capacity* to change....recent studies of political ideology find that both younger and older age groups have become more liberal since the 1960s regarding race in a variety of contexts (e.g., Danigelis and Cutler 1991a; Schuman et al. 1997). Liberal trajectories have also been reported for all age cohorts in abortion attitudes (Misra and Panigrahi 1998), public support for working women (Misra and Panigrahi 1995), and women’s liberation (Konty and Dunham 1997). In other domains, trends toward conservatism appear to characterize the population in general and both younger and older cohorts separately—especially in the area of law and order issues (e.g., Danigelis and Cutler 1991b). Many studies specifically address the relative contributions of cohort replacement and intracohort aging to aggregate trends in attitudes over a range of items. For example, Firebaugh and Davis (1988) report that, between 1972 and 1984, traditional anti-black prejudice declined, in part because of intracohort attitude change and, in part, because of the replacement in the later samples of older respondents by younger respondents. Similarly designed studies indicate cohort replacement’s primacy in explaining increased flexibility about gender roles (Brooks and Bolzendahl 2004), gender differences in liberalized abortion attitudes (Scott 1998), more egalitarian attitudes toward the family provider role among men (Wilkie 1993; see also Brooks and Bolzendahl 2004), and increased tolerance toward leftist groups (Wilson 1994). Other studies, however, find intracohort aging to be an important factor along with cohort replacement on a number of issues, including liberal trends on religious matters among Mennonites (Kanagy and Driedger 1996) and increased environmental concern (Kanagy, Humphrey, and Firebaugh 1994). Davis (1996) finds that on a wide range of attitudes relating to crime, free speech, politics, race, religion, gender, and sexuality both intracohort aging and cohort replacement are important, sometimes working in the same direction, sometimes in opposing directions.
>
> > > ...Therefore, we must establish, first, that change occurred and, second, if change has occurred, that linear decomposition models are appropriate. To begin, we examine the attitudinal indicators for the total sample and for each age group (<40 and 60+) to determine whether change in aggregate opinion occurs. We refer to our three categories of items as HSG (attitudes toward historically subordinate groups), CL (support for the civil liberties of disfavored groups), and BP (attitudes involving the boundaries of private behavior). All items are found to register significant change for the total population and for either the younger or older populations separately or for both younger and older populations. Most items (all six in HSG, four of five in CL, and three of five in BP) change for both younger and older populations, as well as for the total population. Remaining items change either for the younger population (tolerance of extramarital sex) or for the older population (civil liberties for atheists and tolerance of premarital sex) (see Appendix C for results).
>
> > > ...In this second stage of analysis, we address three questions for the two age groups that are the focus of this article: (1) Is there evidence of a significant intracohort aging effect on attitudes for the 60+ age group as well as the <40 age group? (2) Does the direction of the intracohort aging effect for the 60+ group indicate increased tolerance? (3) Does the age group comparison of intracohort aging effects on attitudes toward historically subordinate groups differ from the comparison of attitudes toward civil liberties and privacy issues? ...For the adjusted results, the 60+ group is characterized by significant intracohort aging effects in four of the six items relating to historically subordinate groups, compared to five of six for the <40 age group. There are three significant effects for the five civil liberties items in both age groups and four significant intracohort aging effects for the five privacy items in both age groups. When we look more closely at the items for which intracohort aging is a significant component in the adjusted results, all of the significant effects for the historically subordinate groups and civil liberties items change in the direction of increased tolerance for the 60+ age group. By contrast, structural reasons for inequality (HSG) and two of three significant civil liberties effects are in the opposite direction for the <40 age group.
>
> > > ...When one examines the proportion of the trend that is attributable to intracohort aging (Table 2), the range of percentages is substantial—from a nonsignificant 1.4 (economic gender equality in the adjusted comparisons for 60+) to a high of 99.6 (blacks are pushing too hard in the adjusted comparisons for 60+). Focusing only on the effects in the analyses adjusted for sample composition (columns 3 and 4), three patterns can be discerned. First, the proportional effect attributable to intracohort aging is equal to or greater than that of cohort replacement a little over half the time (10 times for measures among those
>
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jttoto2

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Feb 11, 2012, 2:52:05 AM2/11/12
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
Are we referring to the study? If we are, then positive tolerance
towards historically subordinate groups and promotion of civil
liberties must surely be a sign of insanity. No seriously, if you are
implying that these aren't good things, then grow up.
> ...
>
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Arky

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Feb 12, 2012, 10:58:11 PM2/12/12
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
I wasn't. I'm sorry.

jttoto2

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Feb 13, 2012, 3:59:53 PM2/13/12
to Dual N-Back, Brain Training & Intelligence
No apologies necessary. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
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